“Everyone is jealous,” Jan said, with a broad smile. “When I told my boss, he told his boss. Both of them are jealous.”
Everyone was, according to Erin, his partner, who sat across from him at a wooden table in the Ulaan Bataar Khongor Guest house here in Mongolia. The sun splashed the room. It was about 10 am. I’d just gotten up after stumbling in last night in the rain at 2 am. Awake for more than thirty hours. GAH.
Erin, who is taking a sabbatical from the Associated Press (they’re both currently from Chicago) and I joked about how youthful endurance isn’t what it used to be. On the final flight from Beijing last night I bumbled into the wrong seat, wrong row, but at least the right airline. My head nearly landed in my seatmate’s lap. Such is international travel. She can relate.
Mind you, these guys are a lot younger than I am, perhaps about 20 plus years.
Jan and Erin are taking some months off to travel the world. While I can’t remember all of where they’ve been so far, I remember Japan, and of course here in Mongolia. Where it is September, lovely, and the breeze can bite. Where I’m headed in about a week into the desert, it’s going to be damned cold.
I told Erin that she might want to write a Medium How-To article on the steps that she and Jan took to take a breather off the merry-go-round. Lots of folks would love to live this life, even if it is only for a few months.
Mine, too, because I do this regularly. Kind of a cool gig.
Folks are always asking how we “got” to do this as though there were some mystical sign-up page, and all you have to do is wait on standby.
In fact, there is indeed a mystical signup page. It’s called life.
A guy or gal could wait a helluva long time on standby if you expect a gimme for this kind of life. You and I don’t get it just by showing up and feeling entitled.
From what little Jan and Erin shared with me this morning, I can tell you this much, and I hope they’ll fill in more details. They started saving a good long time back (ahem, that implies a plan). They got a lot more careful about how they spent their money (Starbucks fell out of favor. Want vs need became a critical defining question. For example: I want a drink. I want a $5.00 whatever it is. I need water. You just saved at least five bucks if you used a tap or a fountain). If they did splurge, they paid a penalty: fully three times the cost of the splurge had to go into savings, stat. That kind of discipline adds up fast (Your ten-dollar Starbucks is now thirty, which makes it worth in the long term, if that means you get three extra nights at a hostel as a result).
Frankly, I don’t know many who can do that. That, and for me, not only saving, but also the physical discipline to get in shape for (and kindly, rehab after accidents as a result of) the adventure travel I do.
Nothing that’s worth having, such as an adventurous life, comes for free. Jan and Erin saved, they were diligent, they planned. They did the research, knew where they wanted to go exploring, what it would cost, then set their minds to setting the funds aside. Both quit their jobs. That’s one hell of a leap of faith.
Erin can go back. Jan, perhaps not. This is the chance you take, and it’s also what locks people in place because of the sheer terror that yeah, not only were you forgotten. You were replaced. Holy shit Batman. Now what?
The ability to imagine an untethered world is part of the challenge. If you have family, kids, animals, this kind of life is very difficult, if not impossible. Yet right outside Otovalo, Ecuador, in 2013, I met a family of four: a couple, an infant and the couple’s sister. Everyone took turns with the baby, and that allowed each of them to go explore. They were in their early to mid-twenties.
Imagine the cooperation, collaboration, and daily small sacrifices involved.
They were blissfully happy. I kept running into them in the open markets. Takes work to make that work. It clearly can, but each of those four people gave up something every day for others to do what they wanted.
I wanna I wanna I wanna.
Yes, we all do. The question is what are you gonna? In other words, are you willing to forfeit comforts, familiarity, the perception (that’s all it is) of a long-term, steady job to be able to adventure forth?
Plan carefully, put money aside, establish daily disciplines of saying no to yourself to I wanna in exchange for I’m gonna?
In order to be able to say to family and friends that I AM in Ecuador, Chile, Argentina (still cheap!) or parts beyond, the translation from someday to now takes magnificently hard work. The joy is that as you are out here as Jan, Erin and I are, walking in the bright sunshine and busy streets of very urban Ulaan-Bataar, you understand that so much is possible when you let go of your fears.
People’s beautiful, high-flying hot air balloons are grounded by the what ifs.
The what ifs that attach themselves to your hopes and dreams like sand bags and serve to swerve you away from what calls to your deepest heart.
What ifs are as evil as you shoulds.
For decades I let what ifs dictate my life. On rare occasion, I said FUCK IT. Those were the best decisions I ever, ever made. One of those led to four years of thumbing my way around Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, and starting my own business there. I was barely thirty.
Because by drop-kicking the what ifs,
I discovered I could handle whatever challenges landed. That opened up new world after new world as I earned my travel stripes, took on tougher challenges, and kept trading my what ifs for why the hell nots.
It’s the only way I could possibly have found out. Doing something- in this case the dream, the commitment, the goal, the plan, the steps day by day, minute to minute, the self-discipline to say no to the I wannas that get in the way of your real desire (I want this latte I want this pair of jeans I want this car I want this blah blah blah) and to say yes to the I’m gonnas takes courage. Focus. Determination.
Didn’t say it was easy. You want easy, find a mail room job. (They’ll tell you how hard that is, too, so nobody is off the hook)
That’s why most folks aren’t Jan and Erin. Most folks aren’t me. Most folks say I wanna, and that’s all she wrote. Madison Avenue is very adept and convincing you that you simply have to have X. Funny. You and I got along just fine without X for decades. And what’s changed?
Yeah. We all wanna. Delayed gratification leads to a great many other options. Delayed gratification is in fact a sign of maturity.
That’s why not too many folks get to do what Jan, Erin and I are doing. We got busy. Planning, dreaming, saving, working. Disciplining ourselves.
That’s why we are here.
Hope you make it some day, too. The whole world is waiting.